Does your mum make you feel bad about your body? Does she comment on your weight or tell you how much to eat?
Your mum may never stop dieting. Or commenting on your weight.
This is a sad – but important thing to realise – your mother may never change.
Luckily, you can change how you respond to her comments – and see them for what they are, disordered eating and really crumby body image compounded over many years.
Unfortunately, this is a concept familiar to so many people – including today’s guest, Jess Robinson.
Jess is an award-winning British actor and celebrated voice artist. Yet behind the spotlight, she is battling with body image and diet culture.
I was so excited to chat with Jess because she doesn’t shy away from vulnerability. We rewind to her upbringing, where her mother's diet pursuits and comments lead to so many years pursuing an unattainable body.
I loved this chat, we chatted about shedding harmful narratives, embracing intuitive eating, and establishing strong boundaries to protect ourselves from other people’s comments.
But the best part of Jess’ Real Story – is how incredibly far she has already come. And I know her life will continue to be filled with those light-bulb moments.
Realising how GOOD life can actually be, without dieting.
Ps. If you adored Jess as much as I did - check her out on Instagram.
Want help with binge or emotional eating? I think you'll get a lot of value from my FREE 5-day course, in which I teach you strategies that helped me to skip the cravings and feel in control around food. The course will be delivered via email straight into your inbox.
Hello, lovely people, and welcome to this week's episode of no Wellness Wankery Podcast. It is very lovely to have you here and it's very lovely to have my guest, jess Robinson. She's a multi-award-winning British actor and voice artist and she's also got a really great story when it comes to food and body image and I hope that you get a lot out of it today.Jess:
Jess, thanks for coming on the show. Thank you for having me. It's absolutely amazing to be on a podcast which has been. It was the first thing that I've started listening to on my sort of intuitive eating journey, which hasn't started that long ago, and I've binged the whole podcast, which is the healthiest binge I've ever had.Lyndi:
Suddenly is the healthiest binge. Well, thank you for binging on me, and you have started intuitive eating recently, but when did it all start for you? When did you start dieting? Take me right back.Jess:
I guess even when I was learning to eat at the table and use a knife and fork, food was used as a reward. So there would be my mum and dad would put Smarties out and every time I did something there'd be 10 Smarties, and every time I held the knife wrong or didn't ask to get down from the table or did something wrong, a Smartie would be taken away. So if I had 10 Smarties at the end of the meal, I was a winner. That was the beginning of things and I always, my mum, was always on a diet, doing weight watches, and I do remember her doing a cabbage soup diet.Lyndi:
Oh no, the cabbage soup diet is such a bad one.Jess:
Terrible wind. I just grew up knowing that mum hated the tops of her arms and I've got a complex about my arms now. I went to a performing arts school from the age of nine to 18 and every day we were in leotards, looking at big, you know, flutter, ceiling length mirrors, anorexia and eating, you know, bulimia sort of eating disorders were the norm there. But I saw from an early age that my body wasn't the same as other girls who were very, very, very thin, and ballet was not for me. I mean, I've got two left feet, I'm like baby giraffe. From nine years old I was very much comparing my body to others in a predominantly female school where you looked up to the older girls. It was just what you did. It was, you know, dieting, eating disorders, cutting foods out, sneaking. The matrons would come. I wasn't aborted, but the matrons would come and make sure that the kids were eating properly and some of them, you know, were looked up to because they managed to sneak food. You know, either past the matrons or pretend that they had eaten more than they had, or you know it was just unhealthy, even though I didn't even want to be a dancer. And then I went into an industry where I guess I've just always been taught very much by my mom, bless her, who I am trying to find compassion for at a time when I feel a bit angry with her but and diet culture, because it's not her fault, she had all of all of these things thrust upon her as well. But you know, thin equals good and successful and glamorous and Hollywood and what you should aspire to. And fat equals maybe a comedy character role, but a bit pathetic, you know, and lazy, and all of the awful words that come with that, to make fat an insult, which it shouldn't be. I'm really, really, really, really trying to re-educate myself at the moment, but I did loads of diets. I didn't do the famous weight watchers I'm sorry I can't be in that club but I did the do can oh my gosh and other awful things, and I even, in a big old panic after lockdown, I managed to get hold of the injections and they, I can tell you, are absolutely hideous wash it thing to do to your body. But I did it and it worked. And then I stopped and then I put on weight again.Lyndi:
Well, it really worries me about injections as well, and I haven't actually talked about this on the podcast yet. Is that it is a podcast episode coming up soon Is how you can just get away with not eating well at all, and it really just does feed into disordered eating, of which 80% of women we know have some degree of disordered eating, and I think that's a real slippery slide.Jess:
Yeah, I wasn't hungry at all. I felt sick a lot of the time. Actually, it was quite unpleasant, and when I did eat, I didn't care particularly what I ate. I think I just ate toast or stuff that's just not brilliantly nutritious. Because I wasn't supported, because I just got it off the internet. So I didn't do all of the stuff about trying to put a healthy lifestyle in and all of that sort of stuff and build healthy habits. But even if I had, I still would have put the weight back on, because why didn't anybody ever tell me that diets didn't work? I don't think they knew.Lyndi:
And coming back to your mom, I wish that she knew, but she certainly didn't. Perhaps she still doesn't realize, but this is what we're trying to get the message out there about, because it sounds like it affected your family as well as your sister.Jess:
Yes. So my sister, katie, when she was at university, was anorexic to the point that the doctor put her on the scales and said if you don't put on weight you can't go back to university. She's recovered now. She always says it wasn't about losing weight, it was about control. I think maybe she's. She's blocked out some of the trauma around that because she's still very, very, very thin and still quite controlled around food. Even with all of that that she went through and that my mom went through, she they don't talk about it so much now, but I think it was quite dramatic and traumatic and, you know, really worrying time. Even then, if we're getting changed for a, for a massage or a spa, mom and my sister and I are in the same room which, by the way, is never going to happen again. I'm not getting changed in front of them. I know now that that is just not a thing that I need in my life, but mom will look at Katie's body and say look at that, jesse will never have that.Lyndi:
I think that's the hardest thing, though when you have a parent who you assume is meant to take you and accept you and all of it and their body image, things they hang up about their own body gets reflected on you and, like the smarties growing up you, you're already being taught that food is a reward, it's a punishment, and that's already being ingrained with you. And then to have body image comments in addition to it in this climate of your sister who used to have a severe eating disorder, is just telling of how much An eating disorder and disordered eating can have a grasp on people's, I think, especially women of that generation women I'm talking about boomer generation who got really hit so hard by diet culture. And have you spoken to any about any of this with your mom before? How receptive is she?Jess:
where she at. I had a conversation with her About 10 years ago after I had a bit of therapy, to say mom, I don't want to talk about diet, I don't want to talk about my weight, because she would. She would always comment I don't, I don't want any body comments. And so she respected that for a while and then sort of fell back into it. And recently I've had to just remind her Because if I, we don't live near each other. So if I sent her a picture of my husband and me, she'll say lovely darling, although you really should get a bit more tan on your boobs, and I like there's always some sort of criticism. So I'm so now I, you know, I've said with love, mom, I don't want any comments about my body, I was just showing you that I'm happy and well type thing. When I was 18, she pulled my trousers down I was wearing those sort of cargo pants pulled my trousers down in front of her friend and said look at her thighs, liz. I'm not like mine. They go forward. I think that's a Robinson's thing. Why they like that? And then a couple of weeks later, when my auntie was there on my dad's side yours like that, julia. Why they like that. They go forward. And Julia was like, yeah, I'm afraid it's a Robinson thing. I mean that to just be taught wrong. Those are wrong thighs. What a damaging thing. But she didn't know. I don't know what I wanted leg surgery for so long, literally just forgiven my knees for having fat above them, your knees are.Lyndi:
I'm sure your knees are just perfect with their lovely fat on top, the healthy amount exactly what's meant to be there. I think it's really excellent how you have reminded your mom Again and again to not make comments and I've talked about this before the process of when you have someone in your life who keeps commenting on your body, on your weight, and I don't know what this is. I don't have any research behind it. In fact, it's a very under researched area. Why does it take so many of the exact same conversation for them to stop making comments? And that is the challenge we have is that I will warn someone who has someone like this commenting. You will need to remind them again and again and again. Luckily, the conversations can get shorter because they do remember. They just have temporary amnesia, right, if you allow them to get away with making these comments, they they forget that the status quo has changed. They think they can kind of keep going in the same pattern, because it's much easier for them to keep going in the exact same pattern and saying the same things, not quite realizing just how harmful it is to you, because I think in their minds that they rather have disordered eating than a healthy relationship with their food, food and their body. They make that decision, so we have to be the the carriers of that boundary and reinforcing it again and again, and again, and really I wish they were the case. If we work out another solution, I'll be delighted for it.Jess:
One and done conversation would be so nice, but it is a long term Problem I think so and I think the sad thing is because I love my mom and there are many absolutely incredible Behaviours that she has modeled about keeping going and having grit and being so she will and helping people and she's a brilliant human and diet culture has really messed her up to the point where I just it feels sad because I don't think she will ever understand. Even if I thrust your book under her face and read her the whole thing, I don't think she'll believe. It just feel sad and frustrating. And she's in this 75 and I have said to her mom Are you really gonna still be worrying about whether you've eaten the chocolate or not? Is it time to stop now, mom? It feels like I am literally carving out new pathways in my brain To take in this information and think in a different way and appreciate people's bodies in a different way. So I've got an intuitive eating nutritional therapist here, very carefully picked. Thank you to your thanks to your brilliant episode on that. One of the exercises I had to do is really just just listen to my thoughts, just monitor my thoughts about when I see Another female body, or just listen to how I speak to myself, and in the beginning it was actual constant criticism and comparison. If I think Hate my knees, I change it round to say thank goodness my knees are working and I can run and jump and do all of those things. Thank you, need you know, just to try. And it's so hard, though, when you've had nearly 40 years of radio criticism, to change it to kindness and appreciation by honestly am Now starting to appreciate the beauty of everybody's body, and also other people's bodies are none of my business it's interesting.Lyndi:
They say in parenting that the way you talk to your children one day becomes their self. Talk there in a dialogue is the words that you are giving them now, and that rings true with what is happening now. It's almost like your mirroring thoughts that your mom might have had. That coming into your brain automatically, automatic negative thoughts are just turning up, and I think the thing we have to realize with disorder dating is just because of thought turns up in our brain doesn't mean it's trustworthy, that it's true and that we need to give it time and energy. And so what you're doing, this act of noticing these thoughts record, recognizing that they are false, faulty and unhelpful and deciding to move past them. This is the active, as you said, actually rewiring your brain. You are in the thick of it and you are absolutely doing it. I wonder then, what are the thoughts that when you see another person's body, are you as critical of their bodies? Because that is super normal to be. I always think that it's our insecurities, things that we are most insecure about. We are the most judgmental about others, about.Jess:
I was really shocked when I first started this exercise a few weeks ago, because I got in touch with my therapist and I said oh my, I'm an asshole, I'm an absolute asshole. Like her, arms are a bigger, she's got I don't know a fat tummy is exactly the sort of thing my mom would say. And actually I've just literally just had a bulb moment, I guess. But that's all the things that my mom Hated about her body, that I have been taught to hate about my body.Lyndi:
You don't know. This doesn't make you a bad person. You are a lovely person. This is simply a blueprint for life, a blueprint on how to assess world and to tell if there's danger and to see what's good and what's bad. You were told this is your roadmap for how we live through the life. We walk through life and as we're walking, we're assessing bodies, we're measuring them up. This is the dialogue that you were hearing as you're growing up. You know you'd watch TV, probably, and the news anchor came on and she's got too much makeup, not enough makeup on her nose is big or she needs to lose weight, her boobs are too big all the kind of comments. I'm sure there was running commentary Throughout your entire childhood yes, of exactly this is nothing to do with who you are. This is just a dodgy blueprint you've been handed down. Really, really, really dodgy. Can you tell me now where are you out with your intuitive eating journey? Because you sound newly into this non diet world and welcome.Jess:
Thank you. I have read a lot of books, including yours. I've done hungry for more by Mel Wells. I heard Alex light on your show and so I did. You're not a before picture and I've just we've just finished the little body positive phase and done Megan Jane crab body positive power. I feel like, with all of these books by these brilliant, strong women, I am trying to absorb every single word and believe it and feel it, and I'm getting there. It feels like freaking hard work but I'm getting there because I want to have and I am hyper focused on food at the moment and my body, but I know that that's part of the work and that will calm down because we've got to do this work, this hard work first. The next bit of the phase now, with listening to my hunger cues, which we've worked on, and rejecting the diet culture, and the next thing that I'm about to start working on is taking away the moral value from food. So they're not good or bad, they're, it's just food. One of the exercises that I have to do is make a list of all of the sort of slightly forbidden foods and giving myself unconditional permission to eat and I have noticed already actually since I've been doing this. Pasta and potatoes and cheese used to for me be the biggest turn on ever, and now I've eaten them recently and I've gone oh, I don't even know if I that wasn't really very exciting, they were quite boring actually. And then I've eaten it again. I like I kept trying to eat it and check why am I not enjoying this like I usually do? That is weird. That is like properly screwing with my brain. So I am going to go and get a massive loaf of white bread later and some Nutella and see what happens. Beautiful, I really hope I hate it.Lyndi:
This is a perfect example of what we can be doing is challenging some of these foods, reintroducing them, eating them mindfully and then asking ourselves the question is is this as exciting as I always thought it would be? I remember I used to be very much a Nutella obsessi. In fact, my brother once bought me a kilogram jar of Nutella for my birthday because he thought Lindy likes nothing more than Nutella, and I think I binged that entire jar.Jess:
But that's besides the point.Lyndi:
Besides? The point is, is I? Then, when I became an adult and I was doing this process, I reintroduced Nutella and my reaction to Nutella was it was so much sweeter than I wanted it to be, and that blew my mind that there's things that I had held as the most important, most exciting food in my life. I actually didn't really have such a preference for Nowadays I might have it and still I still have a very similar reaction. So this is why removing that morality around food is important. This is why it helps to encourage us to say we don't need to control the foods we're eating, because once you're having a bit of pasta a very satiating food, in fact potatoes on the satiation index and they actually did a study measuring how much foods are satiation, which ones are not and potato the most satiating food you actually find that you get full, you get comfortable and it is a bit boring and then you can move on with your life. It's nothing that exciting and I think these are very important tests to be doing. You mentioned as well that you feel quite preoccupied by food. Is that because you're doing these exercises at the moment and you're doing a lot of research and it's filling your mind?Jess:
Absolutely yes. I think it's a different sort of obsession to when I've dieted in the past. I'm not planning the next meal, it's not that sort of thing actually, which is really interesting because usually I'd be up for breakfast and already fantasizing about what I might have for dinner or berating myself for having the chocolate that I had yesterday. And in fact I had quite a delicious weekend where I had some friends around and we had some roast lamb and pizza and chocolate and biscuits and all of the in inverted, you know commas, the naughty foods. And I was just walking around the park this morning with my dog and I was usually my brain, my brain wanted to go. It's okay, it's Monday, we can start again now. And I had to literally just take a breath, make sure I was not panicking and just think that was a lovely weekend. And now we continue, rather than I mean I don't quite know the right words to say to myself to stop that sort of slight panic setting in.Lyndi:
I think having a phrase or phrases in for those scenarios is a very important thing. You have to almost have it in your back pocket. So as soon as you notice that thought, you can counteract it with a thought that's going to go. You know, this is no. This is how we feel about this. We have already decided. We believe differently. We are going to turn off this radio, and by having a phrase ready to go, it makes it so much more easy. So a phrase that I think is quite useful is I don't have to eat perfectly in order to be healthy. A healthier diet includes all these foods. But I think that's an important thing for you to have a think about. Is what would that phrase look like for you? And ideally it's one or two phrases that you can keep coming back to that you really truly believe. You have to believe them. Is there anything that comes to mind that you're currently working with that you keep coming back to?Jess:
Even. It feels a little bit like Jacqueline Hyde at the moment Do you know what I mean? Or like an angel and devil on my shoulder. At the moment, the unhelpful voice is still worried about how I look. There's still a part of me that wants to lose weight. We haven't really spoken about this in the work that I'm doing yet, but I keep hearing the word set point weight and my fear and worry and my question is what if my set point weight is Much bigger than I want it to be? What do I do and how do I be okay with that?Lyndi:
Such brilliant questions, I can't help but think that the majority of people would be doing intuitive eating with the hope that it is going to lead to weight loss. I can't help it. That feel that is a thing and, according to the research, when they look into intuitive eating, how much? How does it impact weight? Some people lose weight, some people have maintained and some people gain weight. It depends on what your starting point is and there is no guide for who that person and who you are going to be within that paradigm. But let's talk about set weight, set point theory for a sec. And if you're listening and you don't quite know what that is, so our body has a vested interest in keeping Everything in balance at homeostasis. So, for example, our temperature. Our body has a whole bunch of chemical processes To help us keep our temperature at a balanced level. Otherwise we'd die. It's pretty important stuff. Our body has a very important balance way to balance us so that we stay the same way. Our body likes things staying the same. It likes certainty, it likes routine, it likes things you can control. So with weight, let's say we have our usual diet, we go away on holiday, you eat way more than you usually do. You may not gain weight from that because of set point theory. So the idea is that your body is going to go. Oh, this amount of energy is abnormal for us. We must be in calorie surplus, as lots of it's abundant. At the moment. We don't need these calories and we don't need to store them, because we trust that there is food always allowed and we have our fat reserves, so we're fine. So what it does is it adjusts a whole bunch of chemical processes. So speed up your metabolism, speed up your resting heart. You're your. How much do you energy you burn at rest? And all these things mean that you ultimately do not gain weight, even if you temporarily increase how much you're eating and decrease how much you're exercising. And that is because, as I said, the body really likes this, this homeostasis. If, however, you went on holiday and that holiday extended and that became the new normal, you your set point wouldn't be able to stay exactly where it is. Your body would at some point go. Okay, we see this is the new normal and we adjust accordingly. So what this means is, for example, as you're doing these little tests at the moment, I don't think there's any fear that you're going to gain weight from it because your body is Starting to realize that this is, these are little abnormal blips. This is how it is and, as you're saying, once you've reintroduced these foods, they're just kind of falling by the wayside again, or it's just. It's just they aren't occupying it as much headspace, you're not ending up feeling like totally crazy with them. There is a point when you start to reintroduce some of these foods, sometimes you can go a bit crazy on them. I certainly did. I'm one of those people where, when I quit dieting, I did gain some weight before I ended up losing 20 kilograms. I think I probably gained five kilograms before I lost 20 kilograms. And I'm not saying that to dangle like a carrot or anything being like this is, you know the outcome. But I'm just sharing. That's what happened for me, because for me, I did start binge eating on these foods temporarily before I started to trust and realize that those foods were always there. Questions about set weight, set point weight theory is can you adjust your set point, your set point weight? And yes, you can. So in the exact same way that if you went on holiday and you ate more and more and that Just became your new life, you could increase your set point weight. The same applies the opposite way, so you can reduce your set point weight so that it naturally maintains at a lower weight. And if you've ever been multiple different weights, as most people listening to this probably have, you might remember a few key weights. Like your weight gets stuck at this and you know you're you're trying to do the things to budget, but your body's like you can't get past this weight. This is just the number that even after you're eating more or you're eating less, you tend to come back to this weight. That's your set point weight and Typically, you're going to have quite a few set point weights. It's not like you just have this one, although you currently sit at one though they're, they typically are seven, several kilograms apart, and you kind of think of them as like notches on a belt, almost. I mean, I think it's a bad analogy, but it's that kind of thing. And the question I get asked is can you change the set point weight to go the opposite way, so that you naturally maintain a lower weight? You can. There's important thing for this to happen is food trust. I think that is an Essential ingredient. Is that your body trusts that food is plentiful. Now, thinking about that homeostasis, the example of the holiday you went away on holiday, your body goes oh no, we trust food. Food's always allowed, we, we don't need to Latch on to all these calories because we trust that we have a constant supply of food. It isn't Unstable. So a diet has a very unstable Access to food, right? So some weeks it's plentiful, other weeks it's barren, and your body goes what is this shit? I don't want to live like this. I like routine, and so it's doing everything it can to compensate. But what we do in in reducing dieting, is we're creating much more of a safe and trusting relationship of food, so that there is real Dependence, a real trust. It's very much just food is always allowed, and this is I talk about in my book is food scarcity. So, provided your body keeps thinking you're in food scarcity, that it has to forage for food, as you know, as soon as it gets that hold on, it has to eat as much as possible. As long as we feel that, I think it's it's quite impossible to change your set point weight. But an essential ingredient in this is being able to allow your body to feel like it trusts that food is allowed. Now a lot of people will say to me when I was growing up I didn't worry about my weight, I didn't worry about food, I just maintained a weight that was very comfortable for me and I was very happy at that weight. Then I started dieting and then getting back to that weight was very hard. Now you certainly can get back to that weight. I think it shows example of that was set point weight in practice, of it actually working. That, I think, is Kind of interesting to take note of. What about the desire to lose weight? I think that is a really tricky one and an important one to tackle, because sometimes people think intuitive eating is just giving up and not Giving a shit about how I look. What are your thoughts?Jess:
Yeah, it feels like a very wrong thought to have and it feels like a very unhelpful thought to have and I have read them and been told that, while the goal is to lose weight, you're not gonna be doing the good, the intuitive eating. Because that's not, that's not helpful, can I?Lyndi:
throw out an idea yes, growing up the body type that you were told to aspire to, that you and your sister were both told to aspire to. Ultimately, your sister developed anorexia nervosa and your mom has always told her that is the body type. So the body type that you've been taught to aspire to is a disordered one, and that is the fundamental issue we have. Is that what you're looking to, to how you think you need to look, has been disordered from the start, and it is a huge undertaking. What you're currently doing is trying to reshape that idea that you choose to be healthy over sacrificing your health, and I always say it's not worth sacrificing 95% of your life to weigh 5% less. It's deciding that you are no longer willing to sacrifice your health, your headspace, your purpose, your energy, your passion, your everything, so you can be a disordered, slim, non-existent version of yourself, and I think there is grief in that. To be honest, I think there is so much grief in saying that I don't know if you'll ever reach the point and the size that you've been taught that you should aspire to. Your mom has never reached a point where she was thin enough that she was happy with her body. You've probably never reached a point where you can look back and go. I was so happy with my body there that this is the perpetual chase, because you know your sister had her lowest weight. She wasn't thin enough for herself. I'm sure had she been allowed to, she would have continued with those habits. So there is a grief and a letting go of what we'll never have.Jess:
Yeah, I think that's really right and I think I've got to come to terms with that.Lyndi:
I think it's useful as well to just imagine, to recognize that some days you are going to have worse body image than other days. Whether it's the week before your period, you can just expect to hate on your body, you know. I just think that's a given that all women should just go. You know what? The urge to diet is gonna be immense in that week. There's definitely a correlation between body image and hating yourself in PMS week and I think knowing that can kind of help you go. It's not actually my body, it is the rising progesterone and all these changes that are making it really hard for me. I think that is useful and then doing the act. I think body acceptance is the goal, I think body neutrality is the goal and I think you can still work to looking great without needing to lose weight. I think an important part for me was almost having and people say it shouldn't be about beauty. You know you shouldn't want to like look a certain way, but I'm like, of course I wanna look a certain way, I wanna look like my best version of myself, and I think everyone, most people, could relate to that and so having women who I could look up to in the beauty stakes who are existing in larger bodies. That has been very important for me Because now I can see oh, that's beautiful and I can aspire to being that. And I know people will say you just swapped your aspiration for some other inspiration. But I found it incredibly helpful, especially in the point where you are now. So it might be an idea to see who else can you start to go? I'm redefining what I want my body to look like and what I think beauty looks like to me.Jess:
Yes, I think that would be a really, really helpful tool. I will definitely do that.Lyndi:
If you have a question and you would like to come on the podcast. I would love for you to have a session like this with me, where you can ask me your burning questions and hopefully I'll be able to help you. Jess, thank you so much for coming on the podcast today. Thank you for having me. I really enjoy talking to you.